If you spent your childhood beating each unfortunate player that crosses your path senseless, then watch out because there’s a new fighter on the street. Skullgirls is a fresh take on the fighting genre, developed by Reverge Labs and released on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, with a future release incoming on PC. Recently, fighting games have become stagnant and so it’s nice to see something take kooky characters, put them in seemingly ordinary locations and breathe new life into a once thriving genre.
The plot of the game changes depending on which character you choose to play as; one moment you could be searching for self discovery and the next you could be heading out into the world for revenge. However, the main task that drives you forward through fight after fight is to gain the Skull Heart by taking part in a gruelling battle with the Skullgirl, the item’s current holder, who isn’t too keen to let it go. Once you obtain this mystical MacGuffin you are granted one wish, and if you are pure of heart then this will come true. But then again, who is completely pure of heart these days?
As this is part of the fighting genre, the story really isn’t significant, as long as you get to kick some perky bums and there are definitely quite a few to choose from. As you load up the game, you are given a choice of eight girls, some veering towards the attractive look and some going for a much more hardened make over, meaning that there is something for everyone (as long as you are a straight male with a tendency towards large breasts). However, when compared to other giants in the fighting genre, such as Soul Calibur, the choice of player seems incredibly limited, yet the moves and personalities are so varied that it makes up for the severe lack of choice to begin with.
What’s nice is that each character has some sort of relationship with another, which enables you to find out a little bit more about each one, without necessarily trailing through their story mode. You’d expect some stories to cross over due to this, offering the same part of a situation from a different perspective, though unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Even though some characters may be best friends (or worst enemies) in one case, the opposing character won’t even bother touching upon this relationship in their own story. However, this could also be a positive point, as the game may seem a bit repetitive if this were the case, whereas at the moment, each fight seems somewhat unique, even if it is against the same person.
What’s the most important feature of a fighting game? Character development? Reorganising menus? No, as the name implies, it’s the detail and thought that’s been poured into the combat and Skullgirls certainly delivers, offering a wide choice on just how to defeat your opponent. Attacks come in many different varieties, from a jumping hard kick to a crouching soft punch and so each confrontation has the ability to be utterly different from the last. Each character appears to be on level grounds with the style of their attacks, though regrettably (or not, depending on how competitive you are), some seem a tiny bit overpowered (“quick, shun them from the tournaments forever!”). Unlike some games, it doesn’t really jump out in front of your face though, which is nice as it rewards the more observant players with high-powered attacks.
If the ordinary moves are far too easy for you, each person has a list of special attacks, which requires a quick button combination and ends in an impressive move that more often than not stunlocks your enemy. This is all good and well when you’re the one carrying out these moves, but could become an annoyance if you’re the one being stunned. If you don’t dodge the first one well enough, then you can quite easily be forced to watch and yell at the screen as your life bar slowly drains away. However, this may be more of a beginner thing and those who are already used to the genre may never end up in this situation. Kind of sucks when you’re not good enough though. If you’re not one of these people with an amazing memory then the list of special moves is available at your fingertips, though not actually in the game. When you try to find out the combinations, you’re directed to a website address and judging by past games and guides that pulled this move, it’s unlikely to end very well. Rest assured though, a future patch will most likely implement these into a much more handy area, just not right now. Patience young grasshopper.
Not only does the use of your special attacks raise the difficulty, but like most others in this genre, you have a much bigger range of difficulty levels to choose from before you even start busting your moves. Whether you’re just starting out or have a death wish, there’s a difficulty for everyone. However, if you are just starting out then the default level ‘normal’ probably seems hard enough… for now anyway. Despite the idea of more in depth stories and a much more fresh styling in order to create new fans of the fighting genre, the AI has other ideas. Even the easiest level may become frustrating at times, especially when your opponent decides to throw hundreds of punches in the space of two seconds, but then again, where’s the fun in games that don’t set out to challenge you? No doubt you’ll pick up techniques after just a few rounds.
To help you along a little bit with these techniques, Skullgirls also includes a few tutorials, ranging from the easy stuff such as moving to more useful actions to help you win the battles. They’re really helpful in teaching you new abilities and offer tips and tricks to use in order to give you that little bit of an edge. However, they also come with a handful of problems. At the start of the tutorial, you’ll be given a set of tasks to complete and a description of how to do them, but as soon as you begin the help will disappear, meaning that you have to rely on paying attention and a good memory – although in some cases, not even these will help you, meaning that you’ll have to restart the lesson a few times in order to figure out exactly what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Not only does this become an annoyance, but some tutorials are completely broken, allowing you to duck or jump and nothing else, forcing you to leave the lesson hurt and confused.
Tutorials are the main extra feature of the game, and seeing as they’re done so well (when they work) it’s nice to see that the developers have been working outside the typical fighting arenas. As of now, there’s only one other ‘extra’ to take a look at, that of concept art, but it’s so detailed and you can clearly see the high level of talent that you’ll hardly notice there’s nothing else in this menu. However, if the art isn’t your thing, then more extra features have been promised and look to be on their way very shortly.
Now what would a fighting game be without the option to take on your best friend or the internet as a whole? Alright, yes, it would just be a poor fighting game but luckily for you, Skullgirls’ multiplayer is incredibly user friendly. Local matches are (as expected) very easy to start and don’t detract anything from the game but surprisingly, the online multiplayer feels exactly the same way. You can completely modify who you want to play with; how good they are, where they live and so on, so even though you’re playing someone else, it feels entirely tailored towards you. The only downside to this at the moment though, is that you’ll be lucky to find someone hosting the perfect match for you, as there seems to be a severe lack of people online who aren’t there just to show off how they know the game inside out. There are also a few rumours going around about cross-platform multiplayer between the PlayStation and PC, which is just about as exciting as it can get!
Now a working game is all good and well, but it’s got to be nice to look at too, right? The artwork in Skullgirls is fantastic and a mixture of styles that are used so rarely but always look great when they are. The characters themselves look as if they stepped out of a more grown up version of Cel Damage, subtly blending fun and sophistication into one (of lots of knickers being shown is sophisticated). Backgrounds of the scene are quite simple and 2D, yet layered up in order to make it look like a revamped version of one of the greats. Animations were very well done, maintaining the cartoon feel while also keeping up with the speed of the fight, so you always feel as though you can pump up the power that little bit more.
Working well with the artistic styling is the music. At points, it will be overly dramatic, openly mocking other games out there while still explaining the story well. Other times, it will switch to a more jazz style, making you feel as though you’re watching an expensive show, which is helped along by the powerful, booming voice of “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s showtime!” at the beginning of each fight. All of this manages to mix the serious side of the game and the idea that you’re supposed to be having fun and does so in such a way that you’ll barely notice where one ends and the other begins. The quality of each sound and each track is very high and so it feels like a pleasure to experience.
Skullgirls is a fresh take on an old genre and despite its flaws and unfinished feel, you’ll find yourself coming back for more (perhaps after the multiple patches though). 7.5/10